Martine saw it, and how it changed the night! She saw it, so she has to believe it. It wasn't just a rumor or gossip. It was there. Or. They were there, and the she of they was doing it to the he. To the him. Martine is too rattled to handle the grammar.
It had been a nice, but ordinary party, a sweet night in all things but one, when Martine left the clubhouse through a back French door. Ordinary and nice, but Martine felt she had to get out. She turned left onto the patio that overlooks Lake Travis. Left again, onto the gravel walk. She carried a margarita glass carefully. Don't spill anything onto the rustic landscaping. You'd need to refill too soon, and how would that look? It's already your second. Best slow down.
She passed live oaks and magnolias, mesquites, vines, prickly pear cacti, little blackjack oaks, and cedars. Not really cedar, she told herself. Mountain juniper. She always reminds herself. It was an ordinary evening and she wanted to try to make it nice. Think of the good things. There was that Hill Country smell to the air, that she has always loved. Even it was ordinary, though better than nice. She was surprised when she first traveled out of south Texas and found she couldn't smell it other places. She'd thought the air smelled the same everywhere. The smell is still with her. It poured into this changed night with her.
There is a waning gibbous moon. Yes, that is different as well, or maybe it caused the change. Who can tell? Certainly not Martine. It's the last night it will be bright enough to light the cliffs across the way, making them shimmer, reflecting back the muted Texas greens. It is so bright she hadn't needed the path lights at all. It's half of why she saw it, saw them, why she could make out enough to know exactly what was happening to exactly whom, and who was doing it. It was when she turned left again, into the back lot, where her eyes were drawn first leftward again, to the blue wavering light of the pool, before a movement to the right pulled her head around to where it was happening. She knows everything but the why.
There was a massive live oak over there, to the right. Martine reminds Herself it is still there. Well, maybe it is. Does it exist in this universe too? Or does it exist only in this one, the one where Ann does such things and doesn't need Martine anymore? It was just off the walk, an oak so big and old that its larger branches are held in place by cables that help support them. It has, or had, a circle of plants around it, and a continuous concrete bench surrounded them. Path lights dimly illuminated the trunk and lower branches. Martine would like the plants if she paid attention to them, and at another time she would have, but not tonight, because tonight a man was standing facing the bench, and Martine could see enough to tell that his penis was sticking out of his pants, and that he was hugely erect, and that the thing stretched to the mouth of the woman. She was sitting on the bench, and she was also holding it, and caressing it.
In all her life, Martine had never seen another woman do that to a man. That's not quite right. She'd stumbled onto Internet porn sites that featured oral sex and greeted her with lewd close-ups. It was hard to avoid them, but she'd never gone further. She'd always clicked off. That was demeaning. Oh she did it herself. She'd done it. She'd licked and kissed her husband's cock during foreplay, and it was fun. But seeing someone else? No. And live, right now, unfolding before her? And not just foreplay? Never.
It was all so wrong. Sure there were women who did that, and more. But this wasn't a prostitute. It was Ann. Ann doing fellatio. Doing Ann's husband of twelve years, like some debased slut, in a public place where anyone could catch them. None of it was anything Ann would do. You'd think you knew some things about your supposed best friend.
A moment passed before Martine was aware she was staring. It was them, for sure. Bob was all cowboy chic, string tie and tails, Levis and fancy boots, his Stetson. Everything just like she'd seen him dozens of times, except for that inflated penis. Ann's hair was blonde and long and straight and not from a bottle. She was dressed all in pink, a new diaphanous dress. They must be just arriving, so late as to be unfashionable, and Bob had made Ann stop to give suck before they went in. The bastard! What else did he make her do? No wonder she wanted to leave him! But she did it! It's part of what Martine didn't understand.
Bob's hands were on Ann's head. His fingers held the back of her head and guided her, so she was moving forward and back at the same time her face was moving up and down, and she was making continuous movements, never once losing contact with his cock. Bob moved his hips and Martine could hear his voice, saying something down to Ann. Ann, of course, couldn't reply. Anyway - Martine remembered the punch line of an old joke - it's not polite to talk with your mouth full. She began to feel queasy.
A bit of gravel crunched beneath Martine's foot. She froze. She'd been still, but now she tried to become a tree, a rock. It didn't work. Bob turned his head and looked straight toward her. She didn't know what to do. He began staring at her. He never stopped doing Ann, though. His hips still went forward and back and he still held Ann's head with his hands. His eyes were just dark points in his face, points that never turned away from Martine while he fucked Ann's mouth. Finally Martine turned and walked back the way she had come, trying to act nonchalant, as though she had been alone with the moon and the swimming pool.
Now Martine is leaning on the low limestone wall on the edge of the cliff, nursing her new margarita and staring into the lake far down the hill. She had downed her last drink quickly, almost gulping it as she fled to the ballroom. She wondered, should I tell Maury? Her husband. Should she tell him? Tell him what? She couldn't say anything about it, at least not yet. She went to the bar for a refill, but while she waited on the bartender they came in, Bob and Ann. They looked relaxed, two happy people back from a trip way out to a fishing cabin in Montana. They said hello to friends, and neither looked as though anything odd had happened. Ann wasn't licking her lips or wiping her mouth or anything. She must have already fixed her lipstick. She kissed friends when she met them. She kissed Maury. Oh no! Martine couldn't stay here. What would they think? They knew she knew, didn't they? What would she say? Would Ann want to kiss her too? With that mouth?
So Martine fled again, back out to the patio. She tried to look casual, not walking too quickly, carrying her new drink, looking here and there, though never toward Bob and Ann, and out the French doors. Since then she's been frozen to the wall. She hasn't a clue what to do, though she knows she can't avoid Ann all night. She knows it especially well when she hears the doors open and close, then hears a single pair of stiletto- heeled shoes click across the patio toward her.
She doesn't turn around, even when the steps get close.
"I hear you caught us."
Martine whirls around and forces an enormous smile on her face.
"Why Ann! I was wondering where you were! But I don't know what you mean!"
They embrace, Martine careful to kiss Ann far up on her cheek. When they separate, Ann leans against the wall, leaving Martine alone standing upright.
"It's okay. We know you saw us playing. You were there for a couple of minutes."
"No. I just went out for a breath of air. I don't know what..."
"Martine, it was obvious. And it's okay. We're not embarrassed. Frankly I'm glad it was you and not someone who's less a friend."
Martine leans on the wall beside her friend and takes a drink. She notices Ann has a martini glass.
"Well." She fumbles for a moment. "I wish it had been someone else."
"I guess we shocked you."
Martine doesn't answer.
"It's none of my business. If you do... what you do in your bedroom. It's not any of my business."
"But it shocked you."
"Look, let's drop it, can't we?"
"First tell me, Martine. We're friends. I want to know." "Yes, it shocked me. But not the way you think."
"No? Then how?"
Martine sips her margarita again. A couple of men come out on the patio to smoke, but they move away from the two women. Martine thinks for a moment longer, and Ann is silent. Finally,
"How good is our friendship? I want to know."
"You know. Martine! You're my best friend in the whole world!"
"I'm not sure anymore, Ann. I don't know if I even know you anymore!"
"Why? Because of this?"
"No. Yes. This and more!"
"So tell me."
Martine take another drink, a big one, to prepare herself.
"I never thought of you doing that before. We go to the same church. I thought we believed the same things. I never thought... I just never thought of you doing something like that. I couldn't believe it. But that wasn't all. It's complicated."
"It's a whole bunch of things, Ann."
"List the categories."
"Huh? Okay. I will." Martine is getting angry now that she thinks about the full situation. "There's first that it was so brazen, right out in the parking lot. Not private."
"And it was him."
"You know what I mean! Bob, who you wanted to leave because he kept trying to make you do things."
"Oh. Well, a lot has changed about that..."
"I could tell that!"
Ann sighs. "Oh Lord."
"And there's another thing."
"What is it?"
The emotion comes up from her belly. Martine can't stop it and can't stop herself.
"It's that that was the first time I've seen you since you got back. How long have you been back? You never called from your trip, or came by when you got back. I didn't even get a silly postcard!" Martine starts to get teary, and she wants to hurry, to get it out. "So the first thing I know about you in a month, you're kneeling in a parking lot doing that thing to your husband who you don't even like! It's like I don't know you, Ann, and we're supposed to be best friends!"
They're leaning on the wall together, apart, Martine and Ann. Martine wipes her eyes with her free hand.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cry."
"I'm sorry, Martine. I hurt you. I didn't mean to. I love you. You know that." Ann puts her free hand very gently on Martine's shoulder. "I would never hurt you if I could help it."
"Well why did you cut me off so?" She's teary again.
"I'm so sorry. You're my best friend, but... well, it's complicated to tell, too. But I couldn't help it. My husband has to come first, and it's why I didn't call." Ann leans to Martine and kisses her. "I was going to. I just couldn't."
"I can't tell you. We were working through a lot."
"So you were too busy to call me?"
"Please, Martine. Everyone has some things they don't tell even their best friends."
"This has to be about him."
"Call him by his name, okay? Yes, It's about Bob and me."
"You're getting a divorce!"
"No!" Ann laughs, then catches herself. "No. The opposite. Everything has changed. Everything is wonderful. I just can't explain it all."
"Oh, my friend of friends! Because you're not ready. Because I don't want to shock you more. Because Bob and I really need privacy right now!"
They've gone silent, the two of them. The moon has moved just a little through the sky, pushing the shadows of the outer leaves of an oak over them. They are in dappled light. Ann has dropped her hand from Martine's shoulder.
"You don't have to be condescending to me," Martine says in a quiet voice. "I happen to be an adult."
"I'm sorry. But you already think we're going to burn in Hell. I don't want to make things worse."
"Ann Phillips! If you're just going Lord it over me and drop these little hints, well you might just as well leave!"
Ann turns to her and looks at her for a time, as though she's weighing a decision. She reaches over and takes Martine's glass. The doors open and more people step out into the moonlight, but the smokers have gone away, so the patio is still half empty. Martine doesn't know the new people, who leave the patio and go off toward the parking lots.
"Frozen?" Ann is holding up Martine's glass.
"On the rocks."
"Well, wait here and I'll get you a refill. Don't leave."
When Ann gets back a man and woman she knows are talking to Martine. Martine looks past them to Ann. Her eyes are those of a cornered person. Conversations at big parties almost never get finished, so maybe she'll lose the chance. Ann won't tell her anything. Ann, though, steps between the couple to hand Martine her drink, say hello to both the new people, and kiss their cheeks. Then she turns to Martine.
"Ready to go?"
The two of them head toward the parking lots and wend out to the bench where Martine first saw Ann and Bob. They are shadowed here, with just the little glow of the landscaping lights on the tree, and the same reflected light from the pool as before.
Once they're seated, Ann takes Martine's hand.
"Martine." She says it for emphasis. "You have to promise me no one else will ever find out what I'm going to tell you. And I really mean it. If you told anyone, I couldn't ever forgive you."
"You know how discreet I am."
"Do you mean it?"
"Ann, if you don't trust me then don't tell me! Now tell me!"
Martine begins to feel, really feel, the effects of her margaritas. Both of them take long drinks before Ann starts talking.
"Okay. I don't know what I can say. I have to work through this slowly, but you can ask me anything you need to know. To start with, Bob and I have a whole new relationship. It happened up in the mountains. We're so happy and so in love! I wish we had done that years ago."
"Um-hmm. And I take it, it has a lot to do with s-e-x?" Martine barks out a short, mean laugh. Ann ignores it.
"Well... yes. A lot. But also touching and kissing and not always trying to outguess each other. We came to an understanding about it. A real understanding, not one of those situations where you each promise to try to do better and be more understanding
"No. The opposite. We stopped trying to compromise everything. It wasn't working. It was the problem, not the solution. We were compromising our marriage to death. Bob would want sex when I didn't and if I wanted to snuggle and kiss he'd take it that meant sex. We were always trying to read each other's mood, not saying what we really meant. Neither of us was happy. It was a mess."
"Um-hmm." Martine thinks she should stop drinking, then she takes another sip.
"So we did away with compromising and set rules for ourselves."
"Two main rules. Not like written down rules. Not like lawyers do things. But rules."
"Well, like we have a rule that we have to kiss and snuggle and touch every night."
"Uh-huh." For the first time, Martine notices that Ann is sitting in the exact spot she sat when she was playing with Bob's penis.
"And there's more..." Martine is getting distracted. She hears Ann tell her that the touching can't be limited to safe spots, that Ann and Bob have to touch breasts and genitals and asses too, and each is allowed to touch the other wherever the whim takes the hands, without explanation, but while she understands what Ann is saying, she keeps seeing the head of a penis, large and dark, touch her mouth, and sees Ann kiss it and caress it with her hands and take it inside her lips.
Then Martine is aware that Ann has finished and is looking at her. It's her turn.
"Um, what if the touching is, you know, inside you."
Ann laughs a sweet laugh. "Well, I think that would mean he was trying to turn me on, wouldn't you? Anyway, if that's what he wants the rule is he can just do it."
"Well, it sounds to me like a dream for a man, to have free access whenever he wants." Martine is imagining the penis. Did the head glisten in the moonlight?
"And great for a woman. I get so much more kissing and caressing and snuggling than I ever had before. And if it turns to sex, well, by then I'm usually ready for it!"
"You. What about him?"
"He's always ready. He wants sex almost every night. And day!"
"You should name him Randy." Martine laughs at her little joke and drinks some more margarita. It's almost empty. Ann is about to go on when Martine blurts something out. "We never snuggle. It's slam, bam, thank you ma'am." She begins to feel maudlin. "If he touches me it's only for sex. We used to touch a lot. I don't really know when that stopped."
"I'm sorry." Ann takes her hand again. "It only took a day or so to get comfortable with our rule. Now it's completely natural. We touch all the time, even when we don't have to."
"When we do it I almost never have a... you know..."
"The Big 'O'?"
"Yeah. The Big 'O.'" She sighs and her voice goes sad. "Not anymore. He comes, he goes. There I am." Martine is hardly aware she's changed the direction of the conversation. She's thinking of her sex with Maury, or Maury's sex, and she's not aware of what Ann starts to say. She blurts again. "Do you get them? Big O's?"
Ann looks at her quietly. She has a tiny smile, like the Mona Lisa.
"Yes. Lots. I don't need them all the time, but lots of times. The first rule makes sure I have what I need."
"Wha... what do you mean the first rule?" Martine needs to work not to slur her words.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you. The second rule is that whoever wants sex gets it, and can get whatever kind of sex he - or she - wants." Ann laughs. "Of course that's almost always Bob, because he wants it so much more often than I do. My job is to go along willingly."
Martine is aware of their surroundings again and for the moment she is perfectly sober.
"You have to?"
"That's our rule."
"You have to give him sex whenever he asks for it."
"He doesn't have to ask. He just tells me it's time and what we're going to do."
"So what do you have to do?"
"Just cooperate and do what he tells me."
"Ann! He's using you!"
"He makes me happy."
"Giving a blow job him in a parking lot makesh you happy?" She has to work on her s's.